Band of Robbers – Day 2 at the Twin Cities Film Fest

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I think one can readily see the influences that Aaron and Adam Nee reflected upon as this project took form and shape. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were the creations of Mark Twain, a 19th century American author.

The brothers Nee have brought them back to modern times along with Injun Joe and Becky Thatcher. Those were on the literary side.

On the film side we have Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a little bit of Russ Meyer with his backwoods and small town California settings, and The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight only with small time hoodlums and cops instead of Mafiosos.

This film, called Band of Robbers opened Day 2 at the Twin Cities Film Fest and I was one of about a dozen and half of people who watched it.

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I’ll give the boys credit on the visual side, and can say honestly that they did coax a handful of laughs out of me. I’ll give them credit for their creative energy, and the film was structured into a prologue, five parts, and an epilogue with on-screen placards making the announcement each time.

But I just couldn’t wrap my arms around Adam Nee as the striving and overreaching Tom Sawyer. As performed (and written by Nee), to me the character comes off as an obvious and obnoxious motor-mouth who had the majority of the screen time, the dialogue,

and I also kept seeing Gary Elwes from the Princess Bride in Nee’s portrayal of Sawyer.

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Huck was played by  Kyle Gallner in a far more quieter manner. He was Tom Sawyer’s boyhood friend, and now that they are both adults – Gallner’s Huck Finn is an ex-con recently released from jail, and Sawyer is the uniformed cop who aims to become a homicide detective.

There’s a treasure map, a pawn-shop robbery that goes south, grave robbing, and a good deal more yackety-yack than I cared for.

Along for the ride is Stephen Lang, as Injun Joe. Lang, once upon a time was a major player in James Cameron’s Avatar. It seems that he has fallen nearly out-of-view for him to have taken on this role.

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Opening Night at the Twin Cities Film Festival: Part Two – Room

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The second feature on my film card for the opening night at the TCFF was a film called Room. I’ve got an idea for a second title for this film – Jack in the Box, and this is exactly what this film is about.

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Jack is played by Jacob Tremblay, and when we meet him, he’s about to have his 5th birthday. Jack and his Mom Joy (played with a superb intensity by Brie Larson),  live in a place called Room. It is a windowless space with only a skylight.  There’s a bed, table, toilet, bath tub, sink, toaster oven, a small refrigerator, a small TV, a small stove, a cupboard or wardrobe, and a couple of wooden side chairs.  This room is most likely no bigger than 18 x 18.

From the outside, this small building resembled a storage shed. Within, the space where Jack and Joy lived was sealed with an electronic key pad controlled steel door. On the outside, this building gave the appearance of being a tool shed with a single wooden door. Definitely not a place where two people lived.

Jack called this place Room. He had never been outside of this room. He believed this was the whole world. He could not conceptualize the word outside, or that there was something on the other side of the walls. What he knew of the world was an electronic version of imagination – meaning the TV. But to him, everything he saw on TV was simply TV. Not to be taken seriously. And most importantly, in Jack’s  mind – everything he saw on TV was not real.

At one point, Joy tells Jack about the world. But he can’t accept what he hears. Jack says, you’re trying to trick me. Joy tells him that she is only telling him now because, now he is old enough to understand. Jack – I don’t want to be five anymore. I want to be four again

Joy had been taken captive by a man they called Old Nick. Nick wasn’t old, maybe in his mid or late thirties, but 7 years ago, he had lured Joy, who was at the time likely 18 or so, to the room by asking her to help him with a sick puppy.

As I said, that was 7 years ago. Joy had not been out of the room since. Old NIck brought in food, supplies, clothing and what ever was needed to sustain life. He also maintained the room and structure with electricity, space heating, and running water.

Joy provided a sexual outlet for Old Nick. Jack was born in this room and had never left it. Joy had never left the room either. In case you were wondering, the building is more than likely sound-proofed, and far enough away from any neighboring homes, that screaming or other noises they might make were never heard by anyone.

In the simplest of terms Joy had been held against her will for seven years. We are not made privy to anything about Nick’s reasons. While Joy and Jack lived in this small space, one could say that this room  was their entire world – the only world Jack had ever known, and the only world Joy had been in for seven years.

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Opening Night at the Twin Cities Film Festival 2015: Part One – A New High

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Ruth arrived a few minutes after 4:00 PM, and quickly she acquired her tickets. Since all the seats are reserved, I would have to swap my ticket in so we could then select two seats together. Not a problem said the ticket maestro.

So we headed upstairs for dinner in the Lobby Lounge, The Royal Burger Sliders came two per serving along with a nice supply of chips. How does this sound to you: Two Mini Black Angus burgers with American Cheese, Tomato, Lettuce, House made Pickles and 1000 Island dressing. Not only does that sound good, they were wonderful. Bon Apetite!

I was seeing two films tonight, and Ruth – just one – the opening feature – a documentary called A New High.

There was a slight delay in starting as Jatin Setia, Executive Director of the Festival was attending a social gathering for some of the festival sponsors. So Instead of starting at 5:30, by the time the greetings, festival trailers, and Jatin’s opening remarks had concluded it was nearly six PM.

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A New High was the title of the film, and it literally was all of that. Meaning this film was about the efforts of the Director  of Special Projects as a part of the Addiction Recovery Program at the Union Gospel Mission in downtown Seattle , WA. His name is Mike Johnson, and his program started with people in both dire and desperate circumstances – homeless, penniless, and addicted.

He got them to buy into it – and this was the deal, the training would take a year. It would ask these men and women to take a hard look at themselves, and decide if they wanted to go up and experience the highest of highs, and that’s meant to be taken literally.

They began with in town lectures and others things to help them decide. Then came the physical work. They climbed the stairs in the mission, again and again. They worked out in gyms, they were taken out for day hikes. And what was the goal – to reach the summit of Mt. Rainer. This mountain reached to 14,411 feet above sea level, and is considered one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.

As Johnson told them,  We are going up to a place where no one can live. He also told them – It’s up the mountain or down into the grave.

This was a film that was both harrowing and heartbreaking, joyful and jarring, and for the folks who went through this program we heard: It was the hardest thing I’ve  ever done in my life. And with a successful climb they’d experience the elation and ecstasy at the highest of elevations.

Two weeks before the climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier, they were asked to do a make or break climb – that is to the peak of Mt. Hood in Oregon. If you washed out on this climb, you would not be permitted to tackle Ranier. Most of the trek up Mt. Hood had to be done at night – and that  was to minimize the danger of avalanches.

For Dawn, as she said, this was the hardest thing she’d had ever done. Dawn didn’t finish Mt. Hood. At the point of being just three hundred feet or roughly the lengthy of a football field, Dawn announced that she could not go even one step further. She had given the mountain all of what she had and it wasn’t enough.

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JMM Goes MIA

No, I’m not lost, or even missing in action. The MIA reference is for the Minnesota Institute of Art, a world-class museum right here in the land of lakes. I had time to find something to amuse me this afternoon, so the GPS got to sit atop the dashboard of the NIssan Versa, and kept telling me to exit right, and then turn right, or a variation of that, and I was buckled up and  behind the wheel and set to follow those directives straight through to. 2400 Third Avenue South which was the home of the MIA as well as my destination

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The featured exhibit this time is the Art of Eugene Delacroix,

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a French master of Romantic Art, He was 19th Century, which is okay, as we all started somewhere, and none of us were able or competent to decide the when. I am not a fan of Delacroix, and this special exhibit commanded $20 for non-members. So I passed. But the good news is that the rest of the museum was free as in no admission.

I strolled around the museum, had a light lunch at the Agra Café,

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and before I knew it, I found myself in the section for Asian art. There was a nice collection of the kind of gowns (I guess) that the richest of the Chinese men, who might otherwise be known as land barons, wore in the days of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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Around half past two, I headed out and set the GPS for the venue. I had to pick up my Press Badge,

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as well as my tickets for tonight’s films. That went off without a hitch. I even got to meet the Managing Director the TCFF – Bill Cooper.

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JMM Heads West for the Twin Cities Film Festival

TCFF2015EVENTTuesday October 20th – Getting to Minneapolis

I was booked on the Tampa to Minneapolis Delta flight which was scheduled to depart at 12:15 PM. Accordingly I gave myself an hour and 15 minutes for the drive which normally takes a bit over an hour. But leaving at 9:55 AM was decidedly non-rush hour. Considering that I’d have to park, check a bag, then pass through security, I figured I’d have lots of time.

No problems with the drive. I had my GPS doing its thing even though I knew the way. Certain things are invaluable like when the instructions say something like – In one and a quarter miles take the ramp for I-275 on the right, or something similar.

So I get to the airport and find the entrance to the Long Term Parking and head up the ramp. Level 3: Lot is Full – Closed. Ditto for Level 4 and level 5. That meant no covered parking for me. I had the rooftop lot. Only that lot was nearly filled. I ended up cruising around the lot for more than 15 minutes before finding a spot.

So the GPS went into the suitcase (I’d need it big time in Minneapolis as I’d never been there) and off I went. From Level 6 Lindberg Brown Parking you take an elevator down, then an escalator to the Departures Area. See you in Minneapolis I thought and hoped as I handed over my suitcase.

Next came security. No TSR pre-approved this time for me. It is always nice to get that but it seems so random. However, there was no line to speak of, so it went fast. I had to go through the standard security line – shoes off, laptop out, nothing in your pockets. Somehow I earned a pat down but there was nothing to find.

But because of the difficulty in finding a parking space, by the time I got to the gate, boarding commenced in only one minute. We pulled away from the terminal on time, and after a long (in distance) taxi to the runway – there was no wait. We took off immediately.

Left on time, and 2 hours 48 minutes later we touched down. Actually the pilot informed us that we had arrived 31 minutes early. Follow the signs to Baggage Claim and the Rental Cars. It involved a ride on the airport tram just one stop.

No lines at the car rental counter and soon I’m out the door with my computer bag over one shoulder, my wheeled duffel trailing behind and the car keys in hand. Only I couldn’t find the right cars. I had a choice of cars in parking slots 8, 6 and 11 – I thought. What she had really said was aisles 806 to 811. Not finding the cars, or the parking slots – I went back to the counter and got the necessary clarification. Doh.

Turns out that these parking slots were the absolutely furthest distance from the rental counters. Okay I get the car – a day later I still don’t know the make. I’m really too big for a compact car – but I’d be in cramped quarters not all that long. However, it would be of great help if I had the GPS which was still slumbering in the suitcase.

After dealing with that I set the GPS for the Showplace Icon Theater at The Shops At West End (1621 West End Blvd, St. Louis Park, Mn) – which was the TCFF venue. So, with the air travel concluded, I set out. Interstate 494 to Minnesota 100 to Park Place Blvd and you’re just about there. 19.4 miles 25 minutes without traffic. Only there was huge delays on Minnesota 100 – two separate accidents.

Any way I found the venue and there was free indoor parking. I got lucky and got a space about 30 yards from a direct access to the lobby. I found the Twin Cities Film Festival office with no issues.

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Quick Hits: The Good Wife, Homeland, Fargo, The Leftovers, & Quantico

Quantico, The Good Wife, Homeland, The Leftovers, Fargo, and Blindspot are all on my current list of shows that I try not to miss. However with my taking to the friendly skies in 16 hours. I’ll have to give these shows less than they deserve. Instead of full reviews, I’ll give you some highlights (if I can find any) , and mostly low-lights, as well as some golly gee moments  and mostly some gripes.[Edit] I am now in Minnesota, and despite the early beginning and the long day – these quick hits are still – a work in progress, and more meaningful, not so quick. Let’s start now,

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The Leftovers –

Everybody is wondering what and where they all came from
Everybody is worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain
And so it’s all the same to me
Think I’ll just let the mystery be

While those are the lyrics to the Iris Dement song, which also is heard behind the opening credits of The Leftovers second season on HBO,

I think those words are indeed at the heart of what this series is about. Which is to say and very much as the lyrics do – that I’m not sure, and I’m not in  a minority when I say this..

In Episode 3, called Off-Ramp, we meet Laurie (Amy Brenneman). Nowadays, Laurie is out of the Guilty Remnant (GR). as is her son Tommy. Together they are working to destabilize the GR. Laurie is writing a tell-all book about her time in the GR, and Tommy ostensibly remains in, as an undercover. His job is bring out some folks from the grip of GR, and Laurie’s job is that she runs a group therapy which helps people deal with the aftermath of the departures. Her real task is to help those folks recover.

Laurie looks and sounds like she’s not only made progress herself, but the episode implies that the counseling work the group does is both meaningful and is actually helping people cope. Laurie may be out the GY physically, but she still has the silence of the GR, and the menace of GR, within her. So much so that it is almost as if the GR is choking the life out of Laurie.

There are three major shocks in the episode, and their interpretation is up to the viewer. Brenneman was great in this episode, and she finally has become a character in the fullest sense.

But the underlying theme, or what lies at the heart of The Leftovers is that all the remaining people still need answers, and are not getting them. I was disappointed in this episode as it showed that while Laurie may be out of the GR, she’s no where’s near being even close to being a fully realized person.

Speaking something else not realized at all this time, was Jarden, aka Miracle, Texas. So they spent two episodes setting up Jarden for us – with all of its scars, and blemishes, and secrets only to abandon the whole place this. Why?

I’ve no idea so I’ll just let that mystery be…

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Twin Cities Film Fest – 2015

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I liked the FX TV series Fargo so much that I have booked a trip to Minnesota. Actually that is something of an exaggeration. I booked my flights for October 20th, and October 27th from Tampa to Minneapolis and back, on September 15th, nearly a full month before Fargo aired on October 12th.

I am heading north and west for the Twin Cities Film Festival which runs from October 21st to October 31st. I’ve never set foot in Minnesota and the closest I’ve ever been to Minneapolis is Green Bay, Wisconsin, which is about 270 miles east of Minneapolis.

But I’ve heard all about the place. The Mall of America, the downtown skywalks, Target Field, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Minnesota Twins who are famous for Joe Mauer, Rod Carew, and Harmon Killibrew to name just a few. Plus I’d expect to see a lake or two and why not? The state is called The Land of 10,000 Lakes for a reason.

I’ll try to fit in a museum and a park but mainly it will be movies. I’ll arrive on the afternoon of the 20th. Pick up my car rental. First stop will be the Showplace Icon Theater in St.Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb, and about a half hour from the airport. This is the film festival venue and it is located in The Shops at West End. I’m heading there first to pick up my Press Credentials and my tickets for the films. Besides that, it is on the way to the hotel in Minnetonka which is about 5 miles from the film venue.

This will be the 6th Annual TCFF. The mission of this year’s festival is to support Homeless Youth. In keeping with that mission, TCFF will open with the adventure documentary, “A New High,” which received critical acclaim from the Los Angeles Film Festival. The film features a group of men and women who come together to climb out of homelessness and drug addiction through a recovering program that uses mountain climbing as a means of rehabilitation.

After check in on Day One – I’ll likely find a place for dinner, then take the night off.

Wednesday, the 21st is the day the film Festival opens. Here’s a list of the films I am hoping to see.

A New High – In the heart of downtown Seattle lies the Union Gospel Mission—a homeless shelter catering to the addicted and the abused. For these men and women, hope is a novelty. Self-esteem a luxury. Recovery a faraway ideal. But within the UGM is one man, an ex-Army Ranger, who believes in them. Believes in life. Believes in mountains. And he will attempt to use one of the most treacherous peaks in North America, 14,400 foot Mt Rainier, to give these recovering addicts hope again. Will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?

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Beasts of No Nation

In the rainy season, the ground is washing away beneath your feet. Nothing is ever for sure, and everything is always changing.

These are the words of Agu, a 10-year-old boy in a small town in an unnamed West African country. This particular town lies in the buffer zone – an artificial zone between the government (NRC) controlled areas and the rebel controlled areas.

When word comes to this town that the rebels are advancing, a decision in the town is made by the elders. The women and children must be sent out immediately (to save them) and the men of the town, must stay to protect and defend the town which has existed for centuries. We hear, This land has been given to us by our ancestors, and we must protect it.

Agu watches as his mother and youngest sister are driven away in a packed bush taxi for exorbitant rates. We don’t even know if they will be alive once they are a few klicks down the road.

Agu is heartbroken. But not for long. Soon the government forces roll into town from the opposite direction. After a brief discussion involving a local woman known to be either crazy or a witch, Agu’s father, and the military leaders – we hear from the NRC Sgt.:

We find you all to be spies. I sentence you to immediate and summary execution.

And in a few short moments most are gunned down. Agu and his older brother try to flee, and are chased. Soon the older brother takes two rounds into his back, and he is dead before his body crumbles to the ground.

Agu pauses briefly, then races on into the bush.

So begins the new original feature film from Netflix (available by streaming and select theatrical venues), called Beasts of No Nation, which stars Idris Elba as the Commandant, and introduces Abraham Attah as Agu.

Netflix describes this film –

A brutal war took a boy’s family. A mercenary commander takes his youth. In this war, demons come for every one.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who in the recent past directed the first season of True Detective, this is definitely a bleak film. First we watch as Agu appears as a happy 10-year-old boy, enjoying his life,  and then, it is suddenly changed. He has to flee into the bush and uncertainty to save his own life, but eventually he is captured, is absorbed into the rebel army, and is taken in by The Commandant.

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Bridge of Spies

Lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is talking to FBI Agent Hoffman (Scott Shepherd).

FBI Agent Hoffman: We need to know what the Russian was telling you. Don’t go all boy scout on me. We don’t have a rule book here…
James Donovan: I’m Irish, and you’re German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing… one, only one. The rule book . We call it The Constitution, and we agree to the rules. And that’s what makes us Americans. It’s all that makes us Americans, so don’t tell me there’s no rule book…and don’t nod at me like that, you sonuvabitch…

Yeah, Tom Hanks is back!

Once a upon a time, the American film going public were represented by actor Jimmy Stewart, truly an actor for the ages, as our Everyman. He not only portrayed us on-screen, he was us – through and through. At the same time that Stewart was flourishing, there was Gregory Peck who was not quite an everyman. He was taller than most, and surely more handsome than most of us, so instead of being another everyman actor, he was the man who almost every man, who watched movies, wanted to be.

In today’s world – Tom Hanks slots almost perfectly between a Jimmy Stewart and a Gregory Peck. And never has this been more evident than in the just opened and latest film from Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies.

The film has its beginning in 1957. It was a time when we lived in a paranoid world of nuclear posturing, saber-rattling, and geo-political brinkmanship. We were both fearful and hateful of Russia and we were not surprised to learn that Russian spies might be anywhere in our midst if not everywhere. Each of the top two super-powers, in 1957, not only mistrusted each other, or feared each other, but each did everything they could to spy on the other country.

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